A Closer Look at the ASUS HD 7970 Matrix Platinum
A Closer Look at the ASUS HD 7970 Matrix Platinum
As is the norm for Matrix-branded graphics cards, ASUS has loaded this one up with accessories. Topping the list is a Diablo III mousepad that’s been made by SteelSeries. We would have preferred to see a generic one since not everyone wants to use a peripheral with slightly outdated branding but we won’t look this gift horse in the mouth.
Alongside the mousepad is a secondary anodized aluminum VRM heatsink that is meant to be used when using LN2 to overclock the Matrix since the pre-installed one could interfere with most GPU pots. This will be a great addition for extreme overclockers since they won’t have to use off-branded and potentially low performing third party units. ASUS has also included a cable for their VGA Hotwire feature to link the graphics card and a supporting motherboard and an extended Crossfire cable to clear the Matrix’s ultra large heatsink.
The HD 7970 Matrix is a massive card which will never be mistaken for a reference design. At just over 11” long it won’t have an issue fitting into most cases but a triple slot (or as ASUS calls it, a “2.6 slot”) heatsink design could pose an issue for expansion capability in some situations.
ASUS typically installs upgraded heatsinks on their non-reference cards and the Matrix is no difference. It sports the unique DirectCu II cooler which is topped by two quiet-running 100mm fans and a full-length shroud which partially directs airflow away from critical components. These fans can actually be independently controlled with ASUS’ GPU Tweak software and come with the Dust Proof Fan feature which means they use a hub design that ensures dust does not enter the bearing area.
In order to give a visual indicate various stress levels, the Matrix’s shroud also incorporates a unique LED indicator which glows different color based upon GPU load. It ranges from green which indicates an idle state to red for extreme loading. We found that only a few programs like FurMark and 3DMark’s Batch State tests actually brought out the red LEDs while most games pushed it into the purple color. ASUS’ concept here is certainly interesting but this feature will have limited use for anyone that doesn’t have a window on their case.
At the PCB’s far edge, ASUS has installed buttons for Safe Mode, TweatIT and Turbo Fan. Safe mode is an interesting feature since it allows the card to be reset to its original state in case something goes dreadfully wrong with an overclock and Windows won’t boot. The “+” and “-“ TweakIT buttons are used to dynamically increase core voltage on a hardware level while the blazing red Turbo Fan “100” button pushes the 100mm fans to their absolute maximum without the input of software. These will likely be next to impossible to find when the HD 7970 Matrix Platinum is installed within a case but for their value is incalculable for overclockers
Like its DirectCU II TOP series predecessors, the Matrix incorporates an extensive underside heatsink which is meant to help with cooling performance and also provides a great opportunity for system builders to show off their primary gaming component.
A backplate such as this is supposed to dissipate any excess heat and we’re guessing ASUS’ design does just that but this is actually the first graphics card that we couldn’t fit into our test system without some modification. Believe it or not, the Matrix and our ASUS P9X79 WS didn’t play nice together. We found the backplate’s thickness prevented it from squeezing between the board’s memory slots and the primary PCI-E slot. Our problem was quickly taken care of by shaving down the small sections of excess plastic outside of the slots but issues like this will surely pop up in other boards as well. If you have a motherboard with a minimal amount of clearance above the primary PCI-E slot, be prepared for some ham-fisted modifications.
Around the backplate’s periphery there are a number of cut-outs which reveal additional functionality built directly into the PCB. There are three terminals for VGA HotWire which link the Matrix directly to supporting motherboards so changes can be made through the BIOS, providing hardware-level overclocking. Next to one of these terminals lies a quartet of built-in solder points for memory and GPU overvoltage mods along with a handy area that effectively disables the GPU’s over voltage protection for LN2 mode.
Next to the solder points are three ProbeIT nodes which allow for a multimeter probe to be attached, granting on-the-fly access to +12V, +3.3V and PCI-E voltages. ASUS has full confidence in their hardware’s ability to log mission specific component voltages (memory, core, etc.) so hard points for these have not been included.
They do overhand the PCB in a somewhat inelegant way but the two 8-pin PCI-E power connectors are supposed to supply the HD 7970’s core and memory with sufficient power for extreme overclocking feats.
For those of you wondering, ASUS has populated the Matrix’s primary BIOS with their custom overclocked profile and the second BIOS is used for a 6-monitor Eyefinity output setting.
The rear connector plate houses a selection of outputs that can only be called overkill. There are four full-sized DisplayPorts alongside one single link and one dual link DVI connectors. This makes the Matrix natively compatible with 3x2 Eyefinity with 1080P panels or upcoming 4K displays.
However, it is important to remember that screens with a resolution above 1080P can’t be plugged into the “VGA”-labeled DVI output since it is single link only and won’t output an ultra high definition signal. In addition, the BIOS switch into its secondary position may results all of the display outputs becoming active for 6-monitor gaming possibilities but it also downgrades the two DVI outputs to single link status. This means if you have a 1920x1200 resolution or higher monitor, accidentally slipping the BIOS into its non-default position will cause a lack of signal.
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